Friday, September 27, 2013

Happy 91st Birthday Jack

I am not sure why I am so taken by Jack.  Maybe it is because he is Welsh and still has an accent. Maybe it is because he is charming, kind, and funny.  Who knows which one it is, but I love him and I think most people who meet him do too.

I met Jack about 4 years ago when I was working up in the senior center. It was the Friday afternoon of the NSO luncheon.  On those days,  the senior center is quiet while everyone is out eating and having fun.  I typically would clean out cabinets, do some computer work and be there for the very few who ventered up to the center. The best days were when people called to make sure you knew about something that was happening in the city, or just to talk.  My boss, whom I miss working with,  used to crack up at the things people wanted to tell us. If they called to complain we used to just say it was the other persons fault since they were not there. It was easier that way, they would usually forget after they had someone to blame. People would call who were grumpy, happy, or even a little crazy.  One of my personal favorites, who I will call Annie for now, would come upstairs, sit right down and the desk and look at you. She would REALLY look at you, right in the eyes and see your soul.  She would always say she knew what I was thinking and I really do believe that she could.  I loved seeing her and her little notebook that she carried. She wrote everything down to make sure she did not forget anything or anyone. 

On one of these quiet Fridays I met Jack. He was not so sure why he was even up there except he knew he had to get out of the house and do something with himself.  He struck me first of all because he is tall and you even at this age, you knew he was something of a looker back in the day.  He sat down and we just began to talk. He told me how he had been widowed for 10 years.  He was depressed. He was not sure why he got up everyday. When he spoke of his wife, he would tear up and then I would cry for him.  His love of his wife was beautiful. I got him to sign-up for the next luncheon and he also signed-up for a gambling trip.  This was a big step at the time for him.  I took it a step further.  I told him about yoga. He was so interested right away. On Monday morning he was there in class. Since that day I think I can count 5 times he has not been in class. No matter the weather, how he feels, or anything, he is there.  This may be because he is a retired mailman.  Whatever it is, I have learned from him to get up and get out of bed, no matter what and stop feeling sorry for yourself. 

 I have tried to quit the rec center so many times, but for  one reason or another, I just can't. I feel such love and gratitude for the people who have stayed with me through the years.  In the seniors class, we have lost some people we love, we have gained some new friends.  Teaching this group of people is such a priviledge.  I learn something everyday about myself, life, friendships, family, and even how to just listen. That is what most people want, just to be heard. 

I have also learned that the Yoga is not just about the body.  It goes so much deeper for the seniors.  They cannot do handstands or bind there arms in twists anymore, but that doesn't matter.  They are there for the feeling they get when the breath in fully with awareness in parts of there bodies they have almost forgotten about. They are there for the community, the socializing, the ability to speak freely to other like minded people.

Until next year Jack......

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Prashant class -Can babies walk on a straight line?

I love that the questions keep on coming about India. People keep asking me how I am assimilating.  Did we get yelled at.  Did you see him, BKS Iyengar.  How am I getting back to things.  Once more, they are asking am I different.  I say again, a little.  I do more physical yoga now, read yoga texts more regularly, drink less  booze, eat smaller portions of food, drink more caffeine, and my favorite part, I write in my journal more. 

I have been journaling pretty regularly for about 10 years.  There have been a few times that a couple months go by and no writing, but on the whole I have been consistent.  Occasionally I go back to read what I wrote during my loosely termed, party animal days.  I really go back to see what I was thinking at the time,  or am I where I thought I would be at this point in my life.  After this last trip, I am already revisiting it even though it was 2 weeks ago!  It is as if I am craving the teachings of the Iyengars.  I am also craving the no work thing, the no responsibility thing,  and the simple life I had for a month.  There is something to be said for making things simple again.  Hand washing your clothes, going to by your food everyday at a little cart by the same smiling Indian woman, seeing the same cat on your walk by the same tree, being able to read whenever you feel like it.

This morning after reading a little I went back to a Prashant class.  That day I was up close to 5 am.  My body and mind already dreading the 2 hour class,  hoping I can stay alert enough to follow Prashant.  His teaching is so poetic,  his explanations so creative that you have to be awake and ready to go by 7am.  He talks almost every class about chai and coffee, so you know that he has had a least a cup of the good stuff before he comes to teach.

On this day he has the ladies and gentlemen separated into 2 groups.  Focusing on twisting, forward bends, and supportive inversions.  From time to time he will often say, "Come out of the pose, come and listen." We all make a circle around him as he is typically standing as he lectures us.  In this particular class he is all over the board.  The first break-out time he talks on Mike Tyson.  He says he is all brawn, no brain.  Not that this is a surprise to anyone in the room. He goes on to explain that Yog, which he calls it, not Yoga,  is not just about the physical poses or how perfect you are in them.  He rarely instructs on how to do the pose,  the Prashant classes are advanced so you better know how to modify to your body and know the Sanskrit. He continues on to teach about how the physical yoga opens you up to more knowledge.  Gets you in the mindset to be able to read, study, and absorb all that yoga really has to offer. Prashant describes learning the limbs of yoga in this way, "You are like a baby, you cannot put a baby on a straight line and expect them to walk perfectly.  They have to walk a few steps and fall down, then eventually they can walk, maybe unsteadily at first, but in time they will become steady."  How many times have you tried to kick up into a Handstand and not succeeded?  Will you just give up?  How many times have you tried to memorize the chant to Patanjali and it just has not stuck?  How many times have you tried to break a habit you think is wrong? Think of how long it takes for a baby to become stable enough to run? To walk up and down stairs? 

When the men and women finally come together to do  the same pose, a seated twist with the hand clasp, Prashant has us come out again.  This time as we gather I feel as though he is going to tell us a secret. Sometimes he is sly like that. If you have ever studied with him you know what I am talking about.  He will smile like he knows something we don't, and of course he does, then tell us something magical.  Prashant describes that  the clasp in Marichyasana III can be done in many different ways.  You can clasp as if you are meeting someone for the first time,  it can be done as though you are helping a friend up a hill, as a friendly gesture to someone in need.  Notice now he says, when you change this clasp over and over, how does it effect the body. Not just the whole body but the shoulders, the hands, the shoulder blades, the arms!  We get up and do Trikonasana and he teaches similar actions.  Do you do Trikonasana just for the legs?  Or can you do Trikonasana for the hands, the arms, the shoulders. This blew my mind.  Who even thinks like this? That morning I felt as though I was waking up out of a fog. 

I am deeply grateful for Prashants teachings.  He pushes you in a way that is not physical,  it is all mental.  I think in our western culture of Iyengar Yoga, we tend to push in a way that suggests we should be perfectly aligned at all times in our asana practice.  Not that we shouldn't care about the proper alignment, but maybe on occasion we as teachers could emphasize that a little less.  Push our students to a place that makes them really think about why they do yoga.  What makes them come to class week after week.  I am not saying just lay your students over some bolsters and talk them to death. I mean don't just teach the big toe and back heel all day.  Ask them where there minds are at when they are jumping there feet apart.  Are they being present or do they still think about other things while they are in class.  With all that is going on the world, all the flooding, the fires, the gassings, the guns, the consumerism, people are beginning to crave something deeper.  Most people want to be more connected to themselves, they want to have better health, they want to have more positive relationships. Yoga is just a stepping stone for these things. It takes work, study, and


Friday, September 13, 2013

With Prayers for the divine blessings, now begins an exposition of thesacred art of yoga.

Sutra 1.1 - atha yoganusasanam,  Now follows a detailed exposition of the discipline of yoga, given step by step in the right order, and with proper direction for self-alignment.
                                                                             -Light on the Yoga Sutras, BKS Iyengar-

I have been back from India for over 2 weeks now. I have been asked everything from, have you been transformed? Do you feel different?  Are you seeing a difference in your teaching? My answer is simple, yes I feel different. 

When I was in India I was reading the first chapter of the Yoga Sutras again.  Something happened. I actually understood on a very basic level what it meant. For years now, I read the sutras over and over, but nothing really sticks. It is not so easy to weave the philosophy into my teaching or my day to day life.  India was a way to slow down, connect with my mind and body again and sit with the teachings of the Iyengars. There was no pressure to be tested,  no pressure to perform, just to learn and absorb.

Now, yoga is happening in my life.  All facets of it. My mind is fresh, I am eager to learn more.